Following traumatic brain injury (TBI), cascades of inflammatory processes occur. Laboratory studies implicate the cytokines interleukin-1alpha (IL-1alpha) and IL-1beta in the pathophysiology of TBI and cerebral ischemia, whilst exogenous and endogenous interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) is neuroprotective. We analyzed IL-1alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-1ra in brain microdialysates (100-kDa membrane) in 15 TBI patients. We also analyzed energy-related molecules (glucose, lactate, pyruvate, glutamate, and the lactate/pyruvate ratio) in these brain microdialysates. Mean of mean (+/-SD) in vitro microdialysis percentage recoveries (extraction efficiencies) were IL-1alpha 19.7+/-7.6%, IL-1beta 23.9+/-10.5%, and IL-1ra 20.9+/-6.3%. In the patients' brain microdialysates, mean of mean cytokine concentrations (not corrected for percentage recovery) were IL-1alpha 5.6+/-14.8 pg/mL, IL-1beta 10.4+/-14.7 pg/mL, and IL-1ra 2796+/-2918 pg/mL. IL-1ra was consistently much higher than IL-1alpha and IL-1beta. There were no significant relationships between IL-1 family cytokines and energy-related molecules. There was a significant correlation between increasing IL-1beta and increasing IL-1ra (Spearman r=0.59, p=0.028). There was also a significant relationship between increasing IL-1ra and decreasing intracranial pressure (Spearman r=-0.57, p=0.041). High concentrations of IL-1ra, and also high IL-1ra/IL-1beta ratio, were associated with better outcome (Mann Whitney, p=0.018 and p=0.0201, respectively), within these 15 patients. It is unclear whether these IL-1ra concentrations are sufficient to antagonize the effects of IL-1beta in vivo. This study demonstrates feasibility of our microdialysis methodology in recovering IL-1 family cytokines for assessing their inter-relationships in the injured human brain, and suggests a neuroprotective role for IL-1ra. It remains to be seen whether exogenous IL-1ra or other agents can be used to manipulate cytokine levels in the brain, for potential therapeutic effect.